Tuesday, April 16, 2019 | 11:30 p.m.
There is a certain level of dark comedy to it, the frequency with which the Golden Knights score to open a game against the San Jose Sharks. They’ve scored on the first shift in each of the past three games, all just verses in the tragic ballad of Martin Jones.
Meanwhile, the song Marc-Andre Fleury performed Tuesday night was a melodious hymn for all of Las Vegas.
Goaltending was the story in Game 4. The Golden Knights had it, the Sharks didn’t, and Vegas concluded its set with a 5-0 win at T-Mobile Arena, claiming a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
Fleury made 28 saves for his 15th career postseason shutout and fifth with Vegas.
“He was flawless,” forward Alex Tuch said. “He made some unbelievable saves that we have no idea how he made.”
It had to be frustrating to be in the visitors’ dressing room Tuesday, as the Sharks knew they had played better than Vegas through 40 minutes. In the first two periods they outshot Vegas 26-14, they out-chanced the Golden Knights at 5-on-5 by a 29-21 margin and had the edge in high-danger scoring chances 14-4, yet trailed 3-0.
Their goalie didn’t help their cause. Jones had another nightmarish outing against Vegas, adding another to a growing list. He lasted a period before ceding the net to Aaron Dell, giving up two goals on seven shots, including Vegas’ first shot of the game 71 seconds after the opening puck drop. The first period Tuesday was the fourth in a row the Golden Knights scored on Jones during the first shift.
Since his Game 1 victory, Jones has a .796 save percentage, 7.62 goals-against average and has been pulled twice in three games. Tuesday was the fourth time in 10 playoff games against Vegas he was yanked, and sixth time in 17 career games.
"When you look at the game you can't put this all on the goalies, because you have to score, too," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. "We have to find a way to solve Fleury. This isn't all on our goalies. We wouldn't have won tonight anyway because we didn't score a goal. We've got to find a way to score and we've got to get some good goaltending, too."
The Golden Knights, like any hockey team would be, were not going to talk about Jones’ play. Call it respecting your opponent or modesty, but Tuch declined comment and forward Paul Stastny said there’s “no rhyme or reason” to the success they’ve had against him.
They instead wanted to focus on their goalie, and for good reason. Where Jones has gone the wrong direction since Game 1, Fleury has a .935 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average.
“I’ve felt good all playoffs,” Fleury said. “We just have to keep our focus, keep grinding, keep playing the right way and I thought we did tonight."
Fleury faced 26 shots in the first two periods, including 12 on the power play, which is where he shined. The Golden Knights penalty kill has been good this series, and while it was good enough to keep the Sharks off the scoresheet in four chances, the Vegas skaters have the last line of defense to thank for that.
“The goalie was the best player on the PK for sure,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Sometimes your goalie gets a shutout and it’s a team shutout — tonight was a Fleury shutout.”
The Golden Knights have a chance to close out the series Thursday without needing to play at T-Mobile Arena again. Vegas has outscored San Jose 16-6 since the Sharks won Game 1, giving the series an aura of finality ahead of Game 5.
But if the Sharks do win at home Thursday, it would give Vegas a chance to clinch on home ice, something it has never done before.
That would be an encore worth sticking around for.